Is pollution to blame for autism? Researchers say breathing toxic air in the first two years of life linked to disorder

October 23, 2014 – In the MailOnlineEditor’s note: Southwest Indiana  is virtually inundated with toxic emissions from metals and plastics manufacturing and coal fired power plants. According to the USEPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, emissions from power plants alone exceed 40,000,000 pounds per year.

Pollution could be a factor in autism, researchers have found.

They say children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers’ pregnancies and the first two years of life compared.

Photo © 2010 John Blair.

Photo © 2010 John Blair.

The find could help explain the rise in cases.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of polluted air during their mothers’ pregnancies and the first two years of life.

AUTISM: A GROWING PROBLEM

Autism spectrum disorders are a range of conditions characterized by social deficits and communication difficulties that typically become apparent early in childhood.

Reported cases of ASD have risen nearly eight-fold in the last two decades.

While previous studies have shown the increase to be partially due to changes in diagnostic practices and greater public awareness of autism, this does not fully explain the increased prevalence.

Both genetic and environmental factors are believed to be partially responsible.

The investigation of children in southwestern Pennsylvania will be presented today at the American Association for Aerosol Research annual meeting in Orlando.

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An American Queen graced the region on a beautiful day, today.

October 21, 2014 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

The American Queen cruised by Henderson today. Evansville misses out on these grand boats landing here because we made the Riverfront as boater unfriendly as we could, discouraging museum and other watercraft from docking here. That could be changed but there seems to be little interest from any elected officials to do so. It is sad to miss out on such opportunities.

A large "excursion boat makes it way down river near Dead Man's Island near Henderson, KY. © 2014 BlairPhotoEVV

A large “excursion” boat makes it way down river near Dead Man’s Island near Henderson, KY. © 2014 BlairPhotoEVV

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Check out the updated 2014 Valley Watch Nature Photo Album

October 9, 2014 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

IMGP0607a web

We just updated the valleywatch.net 2014 Nature Photo Album with some really nice pictures of colorful closeups of bugs. While you are there, we recommend browsing all the Nature Photo Albums of the last nine years. All photos are © BlairPhotoEVV, please respect.

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Blair Steals Show at Ground Breaking December 19, 1985

October 2, 2014 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

This is a video shot by Fred McCool and Leonard Judd for WEHT-TV on December 19, 1985. Music and Editing were by then WEHT anchor, Paul Morrison.

It shows me, John Blair, “stealing” the ground breaking shovels for Union Carbide’s nefarious “PCB Removal Plant” at the Henderson, KY Riverport.

I was opposed to the construction of the hazards waste plant because it was not prudent for this region to invite the hazardous waste industry into our midst. We knew that without a fight, there would be others to follow. I was charged with disorderly conduct and later plead guilty to the charge ( I was disorderly, after all ) and spent a night in the Henderson County jail and paid a $ 150 fine. For that punishment, we also received a huge level of good publicity for our battle.

The plant was built and operated for less than five years because our opposition sustained and it became clear to all that Union Carbide, which killed thousands in Bhopal, India in 1984 in an industrial mishap, was not a good neighbor.

John Blair, environmental activist, is arrested after his attempt to "steal" the ground breaking shovels for the Union Carbide PCB Removal Plant in Henderson, KY. Photo @ Dan Patmore

John Blair, environmental activist, is arrested after his attempt to “steal” the ground breaking shovels for the Union Carbide PCB Removal Plant in Henderson, KY. Photo @ Dan Patmore

As a result of our fight, three years later, we were able to successfully oppose a proposal by BASF Corp. to place a hazardous waste incinerator in the community as well as several new coal plant proposals in the early years of this century.

I learned a great deal about Civil Disobedience with my action.
1. It must be non-violent;
2. It is always better when it is “active” versus “passive,” and:
3. It should be as symbolic as you can make it so that people will easily understand why you feel compelled to do an act that most people would never do on their own.

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Bell Telephone Science Hour discusses Photovoltaics in 1954 and a bit of local history

October 1, 2014-by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

This video definitively shows that solar electricity had its roots more than 60 years ago. A few years later, I was working in a Rexall drug store and we had a promotion of a new solar powered transistor radio that really fascinated me. That was probably 1961.

In 1978, the predecessor to Valley Watch, the “Nuclear Waste Action Committee” sponsored Sun Day where several solar businesses displayed their wares on the Walkway across from the Civic Center.

In 1980, The Ohio Valley Solar Society, headed by local engineer, Mike Murphy, had a two day Solar Exhibition at Vanderburgh Auditorium ( now Old National Events Plaza ) which featured solar energy proponents and merchants from the region.

Throughout the early part of the 1980s, numerous solar advocates built homes using a variety of “passive” and “active” solar technologies. Murphy, Jim Morgan of Midwest Roofing, Arkla Industries and a team consisting of Paul Fulkerson and John Barabe built high quality homes that were able to compete in the residential market and save people energy dollars over their life.

This school near Bowling Green, KY was outfitted by Evansville, Morton Solar and Wind and is actually not only saving energy but adding to the grid especially during the summer months when school is not in session. Photo © 2012 BLairPhotoEVV

This school near Bowling Green, KY was outfitted by Evansville’s, Morton Solar and Wind and is actually not only saving energy but adding to the grid especially during the summer months when school is not in session. Photo © 2012 BlairPhotoEVV

Sadly, Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and the burgeoning business of solar was brought to a halt. In fact, Reagan’s Energy Secretary, dentist, James Edwards was quoted saying the “Solar energy has t make it in the marketplace,” and thus the meager subsidies offered to solar and other renewables were dropped and the massive subsidies for oil, coal and nuclear energy were increased. Solar panels that were placed on the Whitehouse during the Carter years were removed under Reagan whose corporate allies could see that distributed energy like solar and wind would impact their chosen monopolistic business models.

Since then solar has made steady but slow gains but thirty years of development including new panels on the Whitehouse, and we see solar now at an affordable cost and greatly less expensive than new coal or nuclear plants.

 

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A bad year for coal but not because of government regs

Larger than life BW PosterBWSeptember 26, 2014 – by Jacob Barker in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It was supposed to be a better year for U.S. coal producers.

But railroad congestion, a mild summer and indications that coal prices have yet to hit bottom have all conspired against the fuel, while cheap and plentiful natural gas continues to put pressure on the industry in the U.S.

U.S. coal producers have seen their share prices hit especially hard in the last several months. Though environmental rules are making new coal plants prohibitively expensive and leading to the closure of some older plants, it’s really market conditions — oversupply and the advent of cheap natural gas — that are hitting coal miners hardest, said Ken Colburn, a senior associate at the Regulatory Assistance Project who specializes in air regulations.

“I don’t think this is an easy cakewalk necessarily, but nothing the (Environmental Protection Agency) does will lead to the kind of impact on coal as a fuel that the market is having,”

Huge mining machines called draglines are used to scoop up more than 150 cubic yards of earth with each pass. Strip mining is one of the most destructive things that man has done to the earth. Photo © 2010 John Blair.

Huge mining machines called draglines are used to scoop up more than 150 cubic yards of earth with each pass. Strip mining is one of the most destructive things that man has done to the earth. Photo © 2010 John Blair.

Colburn said. “I think the EPA is probably enjoying a scenario where the market is doing a lot of its work for it in terms of its concerns about coal-based emissions.”

Influential investment bank Goldman Sachs released a report last week predicting a fall of thermal coal prices. The bank also wasn’t optimistic that long depressed prices for metallurgical coal, used in steelmaking, would improve.

“They typically derive most of their profits from metallurgical coal,” said Kirk McDonald, an analyst with Clayton-based Argent Capital Management who follows materials and energy. “Especially with what is happening in China, domestically there, they’re producing less steel now.”

The Goldman report highlighted the continued concerns about the industry, said Kristoffer Inton, an analyst with Morningstar.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Early this year, conventional wisdom said the industry would see a reprieve due to an exceptionally cold winter that led to more coal and electricity usage, drawing down utility stockpiles. Instead, it was so cold that some railroads were damaged, compounding the already strained network that now carries fuels competing with coal: shale oil and gas.

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Valley Watch, colleagues finally win one in an Indiana court

September 8, 2014 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

On Monday, September 8, 2014, Valley Watch, along with steadfast colleagues, Citizens Action Coalition, Sierra Club and Save the Valley, achieved a rare victory in the Indiana Court of Appeals. BIRD WO ADDRESSbevel

Duke Energy expects its customers to pay for its mismanagement, fraud and cost overruns at its nefarious, Edwardsport Generating Station in Knox County. In nearly ever one of the thirteen “dockets” Duke has initiated before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, whatever Duke has proposed has been pretty much rubber stamped by the Commission.

That was the case, even when then Governor Mitch Daniels was forced to fire the Chair of the Commission, David Hardy,

David Lott Hardy declares his support for Duke's then proposed plant at the "Energy Summit of Southwest Indiana" the day after he presided over a public hearing in Bloomington that discussed the plant's future. Photo © 2007 John Blair

David Lott Hardy declares his support for Duke’s then proposed plant at the “Energy Summit of Southwest Indiana” the day after he presided over a public hearing in Bloomington that discussed the plant’s future. Photo © 2007 John Blair

under serious ethics violations due to the cozy relationship Hardy had with Duke management. In that scandal. Hardy’s protege, Scott Storms, who served as Chief Administrative Law Judge in many of the dockets applied for and got a job as Duke attorney while continuing to oversee the numerous cases.

Duke and the Daniels Administration pretty much ignored the reality of the cost of building the project (hear Valley Watch president, John Blair’s testimony before the IURC in a field hearing in August of 2007 in which he predicts, accurately, the future cost involved in building the plant here). Originally, Duke and Daniels claimed the plant would cost only $1.985 Billion but the final cost has risen to over $3.5 billion

In one of the recent dockets, the coalition of the four groups, each of which has intervened in all the rate cases, knew they had been screwed by the Commission and took the case to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals determined that the commission had failed in its duty to protect ratepayers and that they should revisit a significant decision that had ratepayers pay $61 million to Duke for a plant that has yet to operate correctly in the more than a year it has been in service.

James Atterholt, currently serves as Chief Of Staff for Indiana Governor, Mike Pence was chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.  Photo © 2011 John Blair

James Atterholt, currently serves as Chief Of Staff for Indiana Governor, Mike Pence was chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Photo © 2011 John Blair

Currently, Duke is suing the constructor, Bechtel,  and equipment manufacturer , General Electric and both of them have in turn sued Duke in what has become a morass of attorneys and lawsuits.

It is anticipated that Duke will seek a re-hearing by the Court of Appeals or transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Valley Watch has long fought stupid ideas like Edwardsport, using mostly economic arguments to make our case. Unfortunately, the level of cronyism in Indiana’s government and the revolving door between government and the industry government is supposed to regulate, has precluded mush success over the seven years this case has been open.

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Finally, after several days of BAD air, IDEM issues an air quality alert of SW Indiana

August 27, 2014 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

In case you have not noticed, lately, air quality has been pretty bad around Evansville for several days now. Yesterday, afternoon, fine particles reached a horrible level- 63.97µg/m3, almost twice the outdated 24 hour health standard of 35µg/m3. And they remained high throughout the evening and into today.

UPDATE: This is the "near real-tine data for August 27 that was available at 5 PM. Obviously, it shows a serious problem. Data can be found at:http://idem.tx.sutron.com/cgi-bin/daily_summary.pl and lookingg for the Buena Vista monitor

UPDATE: This is the “near real-tine data for August 27 that was available at 5 PM. Obviously, it shows a serious problem. Data can be found at:http://idem.tx.sutron.com/cgi-bin/daily_summary.pl and lookingg for the Buena Vista monitor.

Levels were particularly high during practice and game time for school age athletes and band members who were not even aware that they were being subjected to such foul air.

Valley Watch has long sought a policy from the local school corporations to forego practices and games when air quality is an issue.

Our pleas have basically been dismissed by school officials and last night as particulate rose to high levels, kids were practicing and playing their chosen sports with the same intensity they would have been if the air quality had been healthy instead of unhealthy.

Health science is replete with knowledge that high particulate cause such issues as stroke, asthma, cancer, heart attacks, etc. and students whose lungs are not fully developed are  vulnerable to being negatively impacted by high levels of pollution.

Valley Watch suggests that you call your local school board members demanding that they develop some sort of health based policy to deal with games and practices when air quality is poor in the region. And such a policy should not be only when an air pollution “alert’ is in place but when levels are bad enough to cause harm.

The reason for that caveat is that local and state environment officials have often failed to issue timely alerts until after the air quality has become dangerous, like yesterday when no alert was issued at all.

It is our view that schools should call off games and practices when air quality is bad, whether it is particles or ozone or any of the criteria pollutants. Further, since the local EPA has a record of failing to call alerts when they should, there should be someone in each school system to monitor air quality on days when the air is visible like it has been for the last week and when it gets near the health based standard for any criteria pollutant, they should act with haste to protect their students’ health first and foremost.

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The absolute best five minutes of your day – Birds of Paradise

August 25, 2014 – by the Birds of Pardise Project-New Guinea, Cornell University

Words are not necessary to describe this wonderful photography

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Duke Energy spills from 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Ohio River near Cincinnati

August 19, 2014  – UPDATE- USEPA serving as on-scene coordinator in Emergency Response to Ohio River Spill EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is serving as the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the emergency response to an oil spill that occurred last night when approximately 3500 gallons of diesel fuel was released into the Ohio River from Duke Energy’s Beckjord power plant. Twenty-four hour operations are underway to contain and clean up oil along a 12 mile stretch of the Ohio River immediately upstream from Cincinnati.

“U.S. EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard and Ohio EPA quickly mobilized and are taking a series of steps to minimize the damage this spill does to the Ohio River and surrounding communities,” said U.S. EPA Incident Commander Steven Renninger. “U.S. EPA is on the scene to ensure the leaked oil is contained and cleaned up as quickly and effectively as possible.”

A containment boom is deployed on the Ohio River to deal with a fuel oil spill. (Photo by Dwayne Slavey)

A containment boom is deployed on the Ohio River to deal with a fuel oil spill. (Photo by Dwayne Slavey)

U.S. EPA has established a unified command with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Pierce Township. U.S. EPA is directing response efforts carried out by Duke Energy. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, U.S. EPA has the responsibility for inland oil spills.   

Boom was deployed in the Ohio River to contain the spill. Sheen extends approximately 12 miles from Duke’s plant down the Ohio River toward Cincinnati. The U.S. Coast Guard closed 15 miles of the river to vessel traffic.

As a precaution, the Greater Cincinnati Waterworks and the Northern Kentucky Water District each closed drinking water intakes on the Ohio River. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is conducting water sampling on the river.

For updates on the response to this oil spill, go to www.epa.gov/region5/newsevents/duke-energy-spill/

August 19, 2014 – by Lisa Benson, Cincinnati Business Courier

Duke Energy reported a significant spill of diesel fuel into the Ohio River on Monday night.Dupe-Energy-Logo-trans

According to a company statement, about 5,000 gallons of fuel spilled into the waterway during a routine transfer of fuel oil at the W.C. Beckjord Station. The Clermont County power plant is about 20 miles east of the city of Cincinnati. It is slated to close by Jan. 1, 2015.

The spill lasted about 15 minutes and was stopped at 11:30 p.m., according to Duke. The Charlotte, N.C.-based energy company is working with local, state and environmental agencies.

“We notified state and local authorities of the incident and have been working with them throughout the overnight hours,” saidChuck Whitlock, Duke Energy president of Midwest Commercial Generation and vice president of gas operations. “We have cleanup crews on site that are identifying the appropriate actions that will be needed to remediate.”

The Hamilton County Emergency management Agency reported that the U.S. Coast Guard has closed a 15-mile section of the river (between river miles 453 and 468). Three public water intakes between the Beckjord plant and the Licking River confluence are shut down, as well.

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Legislature Receives Report Detailing Success of Energizing Indiana

August 19, 2014- Press Release from Citizens Action Coalitioncitact_logo_2010

Discontinued programs delivered over $3 in benefits for every $1 spent

On August 15th, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) submitted the Demand Side Management (DSM) Report to the Indiana General Assembly. The report, completed by The Energy Center of Wisconsin, was filed pursuant to the highly controversial Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 340 which will end the Energizing Indiana programs by the end of 2014.

“The report all but confirms that the passage of SEA340 and the ultimate cancellation of Energizing Indiana was a shortsighted decision and a monumental mistake that will cost ratepayers more money in the long run. This is in addition to the thousands of Hoosiers likely to lose their jobs as a result of the legislation,” stated Kerwin Olson, Executive Director of CAC. “If SEA340 was indeed a ‘pause’ to evaluate the programs, then we ask our elected officials to hold true to their promise and reinstate the programs during the 2015 session.”

Highlights of the report include:

• The report states on page 5: “The Core programs provided positive net benefits for the Hoosier state. In the aggregate, these programs returned as much as $3.00 in benefits for each dollar spent from 2012 through 2013. The Core program for commercial and industrial customers provided the most benefits— as much as $5.49 for each dollar spent.”

• On page 21, the report noted that in future years when energy efficiency savings may be more difficult to find, that “…programs are expected to produce overall positive net benefits to Indiana through 2019…programs are expected to return $1.65 in benefits for every $1.00 spent [on average, from 2015- 2019].”

• On page 23, the report points out that “So if the objective is to keep utility bills low, efficiency programs are essential.” The IURC will present the report to the Interim Study Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications on September 2nd. The complete IURC report is attached and can also be found at:

http://www.in.gov/iurc/files/DSM_Report_to_General_Assembly_w_Cover_Letter_8-15-2014(1).pdf

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NASA Finds 2013 Sustained Long-Term Climate Warming Trend

July 16, 2015 – by  National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Institute for Space Studies

NASA scientists say 2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures.

With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years in the 134-year record all have occurred since 2000, with 2010 and 2005 ranking as the warmest years on record.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, which analyzes global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis, released an updated report Tuesday on temperatures around the globe in 2013. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience temperatures warmer than those measured several decades ago.

The average temperature in 2013 was 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit (14.6 degrees Celsius), which is 1.1 °F (0.6 °C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline. The average global temperature has risen about 1.4 °F (0.8 °C) since 1880, according to the new analysis. Exact rankings for individual years are sensitive to data inputs and analysis methods.

“Long-term trends in surface temperatures are unusual and 2013 adds to the evidence for ongoing climate change,” GISS climatologist Gavin Schmidt said. “While one year or one season can be affected by random weather events, this analysis shows the necessity for continued, long-term monitoring.”

Scientists emphasize that weather patterns always will cause fluctuations in average temperatures from year to year, but the continued increases in greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere are driving a long-term rise in global temperatures. Each successive year will not necessarily be warmer than the year before, but with the current level of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists expect each successive decade to be warmer than the previous.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that traps heat and plays a major role in controlling changes to Earth’s climate. It occurs naturally and also is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Driven by increasing man-made emissions, the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere presently is higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.
gistemp_nino_sWhile the world experienced relatively warm temperatures in 2013, the continental United States experienced the 42nd warmest year on record, according to GISS analysis. For some other countries, such as Australia, 2013 was the hottest year on record.The carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere was about 285 parts per million in 1880, the first year in the GISS temperature record. By 1960, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, measured at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, was about 315 parts per million. This measurement peaked last year at more than 400 parts per million.

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Please do not end up like this

July 10, 2014-by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

John Garrish Face web

This is what I looked like after three weeks of treatment for squamous cell carcinoma using the chemotherapy called Efudex®. It was no laughing matter how people reacted to seeing such a grotesque face. Photo © BlairPhotoEVV

When I was a kid, all I wanted for summer vacation was a trip to the beach. Sun, sun, and them some more sun. Yes, there was a price to pay. Not only did I spend numerous nights, shivering and almost convulsing in bed but also condemning myself to a future where I would have to avoid the sun as much as possible.

Yes, skin cancer is real and although it comes in numerous forms, including oft deadly melanoma. In fact, the experts say that a single severe sunburn as a child yields a 50% greater chance of getting melanoma as an adult.

Of course, I tried many things to ease the pain. Once on a Spring Break trip to Daytona Beach, someone even suggested I spread motor oil on my extremely red body. Of course that did not work any more than the vinegar solutions my mother tried to quell my pain as an even younger child.

As an adult, I have had the two  less dangerous forms of skin cancer-squamous cell and basal cell both of which can be disfiguring.

Today, however, there is a modicum of protection available and you can go to: http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/ to find the best and the worst of sunscreens.

But a word of warning, the best protection is to completely avoid as much sun exposure as possible. This is especially so for tanning booths since they present a huge dose of Ultra Violet radiation that even the clearest skin can have troubles dealing with.

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Reactionary response to carbon rule is misguided

June 6. 2014 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

EPA“Every means at our disposal” is the way that Indiana Governor, Mike Pence asserts he will fight regulations proposed on June 2 by the USEPA designed to turn the corner on the global warming crisis.

Pence claims the rules will devastate the State’s coal based economy although the rule only requires Indiana to make a relatively small reduction of 20% of CO2 emissions within 16 years.

EPA proposes some coal burning be replaced by a combination of solar energy, wind and, yes, energy efficiency. All those energy sources cost far less to produce than new coal and our aging coal fleet is in dire need of some true upgrades because of their age. Making those upgrades is what will cause Hoosiers to pay significantly higher electric bills in the future, not renewables and efficiency.

Efficiency and renewables, solar, wind, geo-thermal and hydro are labor intensive and create jobs.

Photo © 2010 John Blair.

Photo © 2010 John Blair.

 

Problem is, Pence allowed a stupid law (SEA 340) passed in the last legislature eliminating Indiana’s nascent efficiency program to be scuttled before it even had a real chance to work. Sadly, energy efficiency costs consumers far less than new coal. Most states report the cost of efficiency to be less than $.05/kWh. Compare that to the cost of electricity produced by Duke’s new, not so clean coal plant at Edwardsport of more than $.20/kWh.

If Pence and his knee jerk minions in and out of government, had actually read the proposed rule instead of blindly assuming the role of regressive coal protectors –in-chief, they would have discovered that EPA’s proposal is very gracious to Indiana, Kentucky and other coal states in requiring significantly less reductions of CO2 in those states than in states that are not so heavily reliant on the dirty fuel.

No one is advocating the wholesale elimination of coal resources today or in the future. Not EPA, not Valley Watch nor anyone we even know. But, anyone who cares about the health of both the planet and their grand children understand that we need to do something to stop the ravages of global warming and climate change.

It is Pence’s backwards thinking that will suppress Indiana’ s economy as we continue our unhealthful addiction to the past. Instead of looking forward and embracing the 21st Century, using clean energy sources at affordable prices, our Governor seems bent to relinquish control over our energy future to coal barons who are more than happy to destroy the health and ecosystems that remain in southwest Indiana.

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EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee Comes to Agreement on Ozone Standard Recommendation

June 4, 2014 – by Gretchen Goldman, analyst. Center for Science and Democracy

Cloud O3Today the EPA’s chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) agreed on a recommendation to Administrator McCarthy regarding an update to the ambient air pollution standard for ozone (To get up to speed on the ozone standard update process, seemy previous post on the topic). The deliberation of the committee and the Ozone Review Panel exemplified the challenges of translating science to policy and it was clear that the scientific experts on the panel had differing opinions on how this should be done.

What does the science tell us about ozone and health?

The Clean Air Act charges CASAC with recommending a value (or as they typically do, a range of values), to the EPA administrator based on what limit on pollution levels the science indicates will be protective of public health with an adequate margin of safety.

What should that value be for ozone? The panel agreed that 60 parts per billion (ppb) should be the lower limit of the range (note: this is the same lower limit that CASAC recommended in 2011). The committee concluded that 60 ppb continues to be the lowest level for which we have strong scientific evidence of health benefits. But what should the upper limit of the range be?Black Asthma

One way the committee thinks about this question is by focusing on susceptible populations, including children and the elderly. For these groups, we see marginal improvements in health outcomes at lower concentration of ozone, i.e. there are incremental improvements for lower and lower ozone levels. With this observation in the health studies, what then is the least restrictive standard that we consider to be “protective of public health with an adequate margin of safety”? The committee agreed that an upper limit of 72 ppb was inadequate to protect public health and that 70 ppb may be protective but only with a limited margin of safety.  Some members of CASAC pushed to go as low as 65 ppb based on scientific evidence, while others felt that there wasn’t sufficient evidence for this recommendation. “The question of what is an adequate margin of safety is a policy question, not a science one,” argued one CASAC member. Continue reading

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